South Africa's side hustle boom

Months of lockdown restrictions slammed South Africa’s economy, but is there a silver lining? Well, the country’s seen a surge in the number of small, grassroots businesses.
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‘Side hustles are definitely trending,’ says new business owner Simphiwe Mkhize. ‘Almost everyone I know has one now.’ 

She points out friends in Johannesburg who have started side hustles recently, from a mobile laundry service to a car-washing company. When Simphiwe lost her own job in the corporate world last year, she also decided to start her own bakery business. ‘Growing up, making cakes was one of my biggest passions,’ she says. ‘Now, with Simmy Bakes, I want to turn it into a proper business.’ (Even her mum, who taught her how to bake, is working for her.) 

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Ngoako Matlakala runs another newly launched, Johannesburg-based small business – so small it doesn’t even have a name yet, let alone a website – selling homemade chilli sauce. ‘I’ll carry on working at my full-time job until I can grow this into a proper business,’ she says, ‘but, in South Africa, there are many obstacles.’ 

The Slow Fund 

Enter The Slow Fund, started by Nic Haralambous, a Cape-Town based business coach, global speaker and founder of Slow Hustle. For 365 days in a row, he’s awarding applicants R1,000 ($65) and free coaching sessions to kick-start their side hustle dreams. Simphiwe and Ngoako are just two of the winners so far. Others include Unathi Booi, who grows vegetables in her garden before selling them locally, and Kgomotso Thantsa, a full-time teacher who’s starting a resale clothing business on the side. 

In a country with widespread racial and class divisions, says Nic, ‘not everyone can rely on the government. When it comes to creating a good life, many people need to do their own thing.’ 

And right now, they could do with some help. In September 2020, Ipsos South Africa reported that 55% of small and medium-sized business owners were ‘uncertain’ around the sustainability of their business. What’s more, according to the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, a development policy group, more than half of business owners in Johannesburg operate in the informal sector, or the ‘grey economy’, which isn’t monitored or supported by any form of government. 

‘Lemonade stand enterprises’

‘There are so many hungry, smart people here that just need a leg up,’ says Nic, touching on why he started The Slow Fund. Most of the applicants so far operate at a micro level – what Nic calls ‘lemonade stand enterprises: barber shops, nail-painting salons, home bakers; all of them grassroots, problem-solving businesses.’  

‘Small business counts for around 80% of employment here,’ he goes on. ‘Which is huge. So it’s staggering when you consider the lack of support they have from the government and also from the private sector, which talks a good game but doesn’t deliver. I like to put my money where other people’s mouths are.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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